Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

An Era Endangered: Graduate Fellowships for Minorities in Jeopardy

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

An Era Endangered: Graduate Fellowships for Minorities in Jeopardy

Article excerpt

Budget cuts are drying up the flow of Department of Education funding for graduate student fellowships.

The effect is one more blow to the drive for diversity in higher education, according to higher education post-graduate experts.

"My view is that it just seems that federal higher education support for graduate students is dead," said Council of Graduate Studies scholar in residence Anne Pruitt.

After two years of steady decline in the amount of federal funding available for master's degree and doctoral students, there will be no new applications approved for ED graduate fellowships in fiscal 1996, according to ED assistant secretary David Longanecker.

"Our general strategy now is to focus our resources on areas of the most significant need," Longanecker told Black Issues In Higher Education as the Clinton administration's latest budget request was unveiled.

He was referring to department officials' decision to emphasize the continued funding of undergraduate aid, including the Pell Grants, TRIO programs and other federal student financial assistance programs.

As a result, key funding mechanisms for graduate programs are temporarily stalled, including the Patricia Roberts Harris and Jacob Javits fellowship programs.

"In a budget that's very tight, some otherwise important and very worthy programs end up taking short shrift," he said.

The remarks of the department's senior official for higher education came as the Clinton administration's fiscal 1997 budget request called for a total of $30 million for graduate fellowship programs -- a dramatic drop from last year's request of $112 million.

The impact of that decline is already evident at ED offices.

"We will not be making new awards for the Patricia Roberts Harris and for the graduate assistance in areas of national need [GANN] programs," says the recorded telephone greeting to callers at the ED office that handles those two programs.

In 1995, the ED requested $20.2 million -- and Congress appropriated $10.2 million -- for the Harris fellowship, which provides grants of as much as $23,000 a year for minority master's and doctoral candidates.

Since fiscal 1996, no money has been requested for the Harris fellowship. Budget requests for the GANN program, which targets graduate study in mathematics, science and computer disciplines for underrepresented groups, dropped from $27.5 million in fiscal 1994 to $27.3 million in 1995, where it remains.

"In our language this year we made it clear we are talking about only a sustaining effort. We want those students to be able to be educated through the completion of the program," Longanecker said.

Longanecker explained that the GANN money is only to sustain those who were awarded the three-year assistance grants by 1994.

"We are not bringing more students on, but we are not phasing the program out," he said.

The Clinton administration decision to staunch the flow of federal funds for graduate studies has a double-barreled impact on higher education, according to university administrators.

"The immediate effect is on 18 Patricia Roberts Harris fellowships that we received for master's degree students in the visual and performing arts," William Welburn, assistant dean for graduate studies at the University of Iowa said of the $430,000 the school received in 1995 in Harris fellowship assistance.

"A department has to plan to make diversity a part of its program and this allows you to do that," Welburn said.

"It's one thing for me to give a student an application for a fellowship and tell him or her to fill it out." he said. "What's more important is to be able to sit at a table with representatives from other departments and talk about what we might be able to do to bring diversity into their departments." he said, noting how the availability of Harris and other fellowship money made it easier to recruit and retain minority students. …

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